Friday, 4 July 2014

Can You Draft Necromancer's Stockpile?

This is a really tricky one. Let's take a look at the card:

One can faintly imagine this card playing a role in a deck in constructed. Just imagine some kind of Necromancer's Stockpile, Return to the Ranks, Undercity Informer deck. Just imagine!

But whether or not someone manages to make a deck that actually works with this in constructed is one thing, and whether or not you can find enough zombies to play it in limited is another. In M14 I looked at creature types and found that there weren't really any that you could acquire a large number of aside from slivers. In M15 there are four common and three uncommon Zombies in black. There are none outside of black, but Necromancer's Stockpile is black, so that's not such a big issue.

So let's look at a very basic good/bad situation. I'm going to assume that without discarding a zombie this is not a great card. Being able to cycle is good, but only being able to cycle your creatures is not that great. Whenever you cycle a creature you are effectively reducing the number of useful cards you will see. Sure, you see more cards from your deck, but a great proportion of those cards are lands.

If your deck had 17 lands, 16 creatures and 7 non-creature spells then by turn 8 you normally would have expected to see six creatures, a little over six lands and a little under three others. Let's say one of the others was a stockpile and you cycled through three lousy creatures to try to find good ones. That means you are now expecting just over 5 creatures and very nearly 7 lands. Your most likely result is to give up three creatures for two creatures and a probably superfluous land.

If you also got a 2/2 out of the deal then you are probably ahead on the bargain, provided that those creatures you were cycling were pretty much bears themselves. But you are ahead a seventh land and a mild upgrade in creature quality and you paid six mana for the deal.

So let's say that a Necromancer's Stockpile is a weak card when you don't cycle zombies. The next question is, how good is it when you are cycling zombies. Here are the zombies from M15:

Black Cat - It's arguable whether you would want a black cat or a 2/2 in play at any given time. For the most part, I think it's very fair to call them comparable. If you cycle a black cat, you are up a card. In previous sets, though, people haven't always wanted to put black cats in their decks at all. This set, however, has a common 3/1 for two mana, so black cat might look a little better a little more of the time.

Carrion Crow - Grizzly Bears are a lot worse than Wind Drakes in limited and I'm sure a situation will arise when it makes more sense to play out a crow than to cycle it for a bear. On the other hand, cards are also good in limited, and on many boards crows will go to the stockpile, especially since they come into play tapped and can't be emergency blockers.

Necromancer's Assistant - The difference between a 3/1 and a 2/2 is not generally so great as the difference between a 2/2 and a 2/2 flier. The ability of the assistant may be useful in your deck, but it's probably not stupendous since the stockpile lets you put creatures in your graveyard anyway. Unless you are using that stockpile to dig for Mind Sculpts, I would say these guys put you up a card when you cycle them through the stockpile.

Walking Dead - Do you want a 2/2 or a 2/2 that lets you draw a card? Cycling a Walking Dead is what the Stockpile is all about.

Gravedigger - If you play stockpile and cycle a Gravedigger there's a very good chance you are about as well off as if you'd just played Gravedigger. Given that Stockpile is already in play it certainly saves you two mana. It also gives you a choice of whether you want a creature from your graveyard or What's On Top Of Your Deck. That's value, but is a whole card of value? Maybe sometimes.

Nightfire Giant - Don't get me wrong, if you are stuck on land and need to cycle your awesome five drop to stay in the game you will be thrilled to get a 2/2 out of the deal. But if you are cycling this you probably weeping internally if not openly.

Wall of Limbs - Is this something you would even play? I feel like that an entirely different blog post. At any rate, if this is good and you have it early then you aren't going to stockpile it. If you have it late I'm sure you would.

How many copies of middle-of-the-line commons can you expect to get in a draft? Sometimes they'll go sooner in bad packs, sometimes later in good ones. Sometimes someone will be cutting you sometimes it will be more open. Let's just say that all evens out and about four or five of the eight packs in each round of the draft will give you a chance to take a mediocre common zombie if one existed in the pack in the first place. The uncommons are probably similar except the giant who you might only have a couple of cracks at, but maybe because he requires two colours he won't be as popular as he looks like he would be as an early pick.

I don't know what the common runs will be like, so let's estimate based on the idea that there's no such thing as a common run. Two common zombies in the same pack could benefit or hurt you anyway, depending on where other black drafters are sitting.

I count 101 commons in the set with 11 in each pack giving a 37% chance of each pack having a common zombie in it. With 89 uncommons in the set and 3 per pack there is a 10% chance of a zombie uncommon. So with the caveats above that you might not see so many giants, that's a 44% chance to get a zombie out of about 15 packs for a six and a half zombies. Let's round that down to six to account for playing carrion crows sometimes and the uncommons even more often times.

Now the question is whether you should include a card that is probably good if you draw a zombie but not good if you don't draw a zombie. After a couple of tries I got the math right. Here is the table of your likelihood to draw between 1 and 4 zombies in your first 4 through 10 turns:

The different lines are different numbers of zombies drawn, so the green line shows your chances of drawing at least 3 zombies. Of course this assumes you cycled the zombies you go, so by turn 7 to get that 40% chance of having 3 zombies it assumes you've looked through 12 cards, not 10.

But you'll note that the chances for getting at least one zombie at quite high. And the mana cost is reasonable. It's 1B to put down in the first place, but when you use it to cycle a Walking Dead it only costs as much as the dead would have cost anyway. Two mana for a bear is pretty standard, so the mana is really to buy those bears.

Two mana to draw two cards is godd but not excellent. Two mana to draw three is excellent. Two mana to draw one is fine because having a stockpile is better than not, but generally as discussed above, if you only use it once to cycle a zombie it isn't doing much to get you ahead.

The other issue to consider is whether that turn four to ten outlook is reasonable. We don't really know how fast the environment will be yet, but turn ten might be too long an outlook.

My guess is that the stockpile will be a reasonable thing to add to your deck if you happen to pick one up mid-pack in your black deck that was going to play a bunch of zombies anyway. This is not pick one, pack one material.


  1. There's also the issue of tempo. Spending turn 2 doing nothing and turn 3 putting a bear into play tapped can be a lot worse than putting a bear into play untapped on turn 2. I guess you still get that choice when you really need the bear, but it devalues the card a fair bit if that's a common occurrence.

    1. Whoops. I could swear I was going to put something about that in - how many activations you might expect to lose merely because you played Walking Dead on turn two, which I think you would mostly do.

      The corollary to that is that the card is only worth playing in a controlling deck. If you are planning on being very aggressive it probably sets you back too me.